Senators goaltending depth tested by Craig Anderson’s injuries

Anthony Duclair scored two, Chris Tierney recorded a goal and two assists, and the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins 5-2.

When a veteran goalie gets injured at this time of year, it can impact a team in different ways.

For a contender, the loss of a veteran starter could require a move to bolster the position, or a prayer to the guardian angel of goaltenders for a quick return to action while others hold the fort in the interim.

When a rebuilding team like the Ottawa Senators loses its co-starter, Craig Anderson, for a period of time it can impact the club in several ways:

1. It puts pressure on Anders Nilsson, who has played in 17 games this season to Anderson’s 16, to carry the ball for the foreseeable future.

2. It provides an opportunity for a prospect like Marcus Hogberg, up from AHL Belleville, to add games to his NHL dossier, which includes six career games, two this season, one of those in relief.

3. It plays havoc, at least temporarily, with any plan to move Anderson before the trade deadline. If Anderson, 38, and a pending free agent, agrees to move to a contending team as a starter or backup, he has to first demonstrate he can get back to full health and return to the form he showed while beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Dec. 4.

Anderson was stellar in that game, a performance duly noted by NHL pro scouts. It earned him the next start, Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, where he twisted his knee awkwardly on a play that started behind the net and ended with the puck in his net and Anderson collapsed in a heap.

On Monday, Senators head coach D. J. Smith said that Anderson "tweaked his knee" and would be out for an uncertain amount of time. Perhaps a week or more. This sounds more like a knee strain than anything more serious, but you can imagine a scenario where Anderson needs at least a week of recovery and then several days of practice before he is ready to play in a game.

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In the meantime, the team leans on Nilsson, who told Sportsnet.ca he doesn’t believe much changes with Anderson out.

"Well, I can talk Swedish to Hoggie (Hogberg) instead of English to Andy (laughs), but other than that, when I’m out there practising or playing my job is still the same," Nilsson says.

"I have to focus on myself — my job is to stop the puck," he adds. "Other than that, you can’t put too much energy into other events. But of course, in the locker room, he (Anderson) is missed. Hoggie here has been doing real well here, when he has played in two games, but it’s never fun to see a teammate injured, especially your goalie partner because you work closely together with him.

"It’s tough. I hope it’s not going to be too long for him. Hopefully he’s back fairly soon."

Nilsson says he doesn’t offer Hogberg a lot of unsolicited advice. At 25, he’s only four years younger than Nilsson, and has had a lot of experience in the pros, from the Swedish Hockey League to the AHL.

Of course, as soon as Hogberg arrived in from the morning skate, the pair prattled on together in Swedish, likely talking about anything but hockey.

Nilsson does recall being new to the NHL and soaking up the experience as part of his development.

"I can go back to myself when I was breaking in, it helps a lot just to be around (NHL players). The level of practice, the pace and the shots and everything are quicker and faster. It helps to be around a lot and practice at the NHL level, be around the locker room and be on trips and see how everything works.

"I remember my first trip (with the New York Islanders) it was a good experience just to be around and see (how) everything works outside the room, the morning skates on the road and all of that. So, when you actually get a chance to play you don’t have to even think about anything else. Just prepare yourself to stop the puck."

With Hogberg, Filip Gustavsson, Joey Daccord and Mads Sogaard, the Senators have enough depth at the goaltender position to consider moving Anderson for a pick and/or a prospect.

First, he has to get healthy and back in the lineup. Though he is on injured reserve, Anderson was seen leaving the arena post-game Monday night, walking without a limp. Good sign.

Against Boston, Nilsson was outstanding, bordering on sensational, stopping 38 of 40 Bruins shots. A few were of the ten-bell variety — especially a first period robbery on Danton Heinen — in a 5-2 home team win. Ottawa had two empty-net goals and Anthony Duclair, with two goals and one assist, was the Senators best forward.

"I felt pretty good," said Nilsson, afterwards, in typical understatement. "I felt like I saw the puck pretty well and my tracking was good. With that, it’s a team game and all the guys in front of me did a great job, especially on the PK, everyone battled."

One of Nilsson’s toughest save was a deflection that rocketed off the stick of his own defenceman, Mark Borowiecki, in the second period. Nilsson got his left pad on it.

"It was definitely my luckiest," Nilsson said.

As a team, Ottawa made 29 shot blocks to Boston’s six. This was an all-in game, delivering the Senators most satisfying win of the season.

It’s hard to remember now that Nilsson was scuffling a bit before coming home, giving up 13 goals on 65 shots over a three-game stretch.

Nilsson turned the page on that in a hurry, improving his save percentage to .913 and his goals-against to 3.03. Nilsson has a record of 8-8-1, which is remarkable on a rebuilding team.

No Anderson? No problem on this night.

Sabourin skates with mates

Monday morning, Scott Sabourin skated with his teammates for the first time since his frightening injury suffered against the Bruins on Nov. 2 when he collided with David Backes, causing both players to suffer concussions. Sabourin got the worst of it, sent to hospital with facial cuts, contusions and a broken nose along with the concussion.

Sabourin says he still hasn’t seen the entire replay of the incident.

"I didn’t watch the whole clip, I watched the condensed version," Sabourin says. "That was plenty for me to see. It is what it is. It was probably worse for my family and the rest of the world to see than it was for me.

"I had a little nap and woke up and my head was hurting."

That "little nap" came after Sabourin’s first diagnosed concussion, "and hopefully my last one," he says, calling it a "freak accident."

There is no timetable for Sabourin’s return to action. He first has to pass a "neuro-psych" test.

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Move it, Mr. Brown

While D. J. Smith spoke highly of his centre prospect, Logan Brown, suggesting that down the road other teams will be trying to figure out how to stop him, for now the head coach would like more consistent effort. At Monday’s skate, Smith thought Brown was too nonchalant on a dump-in drill and said: "Logan, can you please skate as fast as you can?"

Brown, who was starting on the first line earlier in the year, has seen his ice time dip while he slipped to a third and fourth line role. Smith says if Brown can earn his way to more minutes and first or second-line duty, he will stay in Ottawa. If not, he might have to return to Belleville, as rookie defenceman Erik Brannstrom did, to get his minutes back up.

"We don’t want him playing in that fourth line role," Smith said of Brown . "Not that he can’t do it for a game or two."

In that fourth line role, Brown played just 7:08 against Boston, with 51 seconds of power play time. Brown had three shifts in the third period as Smith went with three lines.

Senators are ‘fine’ with Tkachuk’s outburst

Winger Brady Tkachuk paid a fine of $2,486.56 for his last-minute cross-check and roughing penalty on Scott Laughton of the Philadelphia Flyers, but his teammates should pass the hat for the kid.

Smith said a young player has to learn to pick his spots – "we want to win the game, once he’s in the box that makes it harder for us."

The Flyers won Saturday’s game 4-3. Ottawa had pulled its goalie and just 25 seconds remained on the clock, so Tkachuk realized a win was unlikely.

Even so…

"That’s a learning lesson for him," Smith said. "Sometimes you’ve got to eat it."

What Tkachuk was asked to "eat" was an unnecessary chirp of the Senators bench by Laughton after he scored the Flyers’ fourth goal. Tkachuk took exception and Smith and every player in that room had to like the spirit of that response, if not the timing.

Smith was asked what he meant by saying that Tkachuk has the ability to drag his team into battle.

"When we’re not going great, he can go out and get a hit… get a couple of shots… get into a scrum and maybe push some guys," Smith said. "Just create some energy on our bench. He doesn’t give you an inch and he plays hard every night. Once you see a young guy like that going that hard — it’s very similar to Boro (Borowiecki) — when they play that hard. It’s hard, if I’m someone sitting on the bench not to join them. That’s what I mean by dragging them into battle."

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